The Smoking Room

My favorite day ever at Muirfield was a blustery November one a few years back.  Knowing that I was coming across for the annual Golf Tourism Scotland awards dinner which was being held that year on a Thursday evening in early November at the Marine Hotel in North Berwick, a dear friend and Muirfield member who was always my guest at GTS decided we should join two other HCEG members for a game of foursomes the next day. As he and I were usually two of the last to retire after the dinner despite being nearly twice the age of many others who attend GTS, my friend suggested that we begin at “the more civilised hour” of 11:00 AM, play nine, break for lunch then return for the second nine. 

The appointed day arrived with brilliant sunshine, a two to three club wind and temperatures hovering in the mid 40s. We all donned our heaviest corduroy trousers and multiple layers up top to venture forth for a spirited game which left my friend and me all square with our opponents after just a bit less than 90 minutes on the front nine.

Then we returned to the venerable clubhouse; changed into dress slacks, blazers and club ties; and, repaired to the Smoking Room for pre-luncheon gin and tonics. Three rounds later it was time for the famous Muirfield carvery luncheon which that day featured lamb, beef, pork, turkey and a fish dish which I cannot recall. This was surrounded by Yorkshire pudding, potatoes four ways and more vegetable choices than I knew existed. We washed it all down with three bottles of an excellent claret before selecting a pudding for our sweet. The obligatory cheese and biscuits were accompanied by two or three glasses each of a fine vintage port recommended by my friend and host. 

After lunch, it was decided that we should return to the Smoking Room for a bit of brandy to settle our stomachs before we returned to the course. Over the first brandy we began to discuss the ingenious nature of Old Tom’s routing for a club like HCEG which prefers foursome play. Because he eschewed the traditional links “out and back” design for Muirfield and offered instead a play which sets almost every next hole at a right angle to the previous one, there are two paths away from every green—one to the next tee for the partner who will be driving and another to the middle of the fairway for the partner who will be hitting second. The result is the second shot can be played well before the first player even reaches his tee ball and the time required for 18 holes is greatly reduced to as little as 2 ½ hours. 

The discussion was so intense and detailed that it required more than a single brandy to complete. When it was finished we noticed the sun was beginning to sink towards Gullane Hill to the point where it was obvious we could not play another nine before nightfall. We called the match a draw, ordered coffees and continued to talk about golf. 

I’ve played Muirfield dozens of times over the past 25 years but there is no day I recall more fondly than that one. Sometimes the good life shared with fellow golfers is even more important than golf at its finest.

Sam Baker
Founder & CEO
Haversham & Baker Golfing Expeditions